Using a birdfeeder network to assess bird diversity across a suburban university campus
Urbanization is one of the largest factors contributing to the loss of wildlife diversity on our planet. Urbanization can cause biotic homogenization by encouraging the dominance of the same non-native species in all urbanized areas while threatening the native species that make each region unique. The purpose of this project is to use a network of bird feeders to measure bird diversity, abundance, and species composition on the SUNY New Paltz campus as a way to explore the effects of urbanization, and to identify ways to mitigate them. The SUNY New Paltz campus is a 257-acre parcel adjacent to the village of New Paltz that is home to 6,570 undergraduate students. We observed birds at eight bird feeder stations scattered across the campus in three regions with differing levels of urbanization based on the size and density of buildings and the amount of pedestrian traffic found there. We recorded the presence of all birds observed within 20 meters of each feeder station during 10 minute point counts each week during the fall and spring semesters to determine how bird species richness, abundance, and species composition differed across campus.
We found that species richness and community composition differed among our feeder stations, and that this variation appeared to be associated with urbanization. Overall species richness was higher at feeder stations in the residential areas of campus, and lower in the core urbanized zone of academic buildings and quads. Surprisingly, species richness was also lower at feeder stations in “rural” areas of campus comprised of playing fields, walking paths, and forest fragments. Bird abundance did not vary significantly among feeder stations. Community composition differed among feeders, with invasive house sparrows dominating the three urban feeder stations (84%, 67%, and 32% house sparrows). Two feeders in residential areas had communities that were fairly evenly split among the largest number of species, while the rural feeder stations were dominated by native American goldfinches (67%, 66%, and 48%). To improve bird diversity on our campus, we could try to simulate the structural diversity of the residential areas of campus, perhaps by planting groups of trees and shrubs with varied structure among the buildings and playing fields.